The Pentagon’s recent decision to award the hotly contested contract for the Joint Enterprise Defense Infrastructure (JEDI) system to Microsoft is seen by many observers as a major setback for Amazon Web Services (AWS). AWS is protesting the decision. But even if it should lose the protest, AWS will remain a premier, trusted cloud provider to the U.S. government, overall, and the Pentagon, in particular.
For more than two years, media discussions of the Department of Defense’s (DoD) effort to embrace cloud computing have been largely focused on a single event, the competition for the JEDI contract. The idea behind JEDI was to exploit the best of commercial cloud technology to create what DoD described as a “worldwide, highly available, exponentially elastic, secure, resilient cloud computing and storage environment that seamlessly extends from the homefront to the tactical edge.” Pentagon leaders see JEDI as including both fixed storage sites as well as mobile, even miniaturized, backpack-portable servers that will provide tactical units with highly classified, mission-critical and actionable intelligence. If fully exploited by DoD and other elements of national security, JEDI could be a ten-year, $10 billion effort.
JEDI is not the first and may not even be the largest cloud services contract signed by DoD. General Dynamics IT recently won the Pentagon’s multi-billion dollar Defense Enterprise Office Solutions contract. In reality, the Pentagon has been steadily moving its activities to the cloud for years. DoD is one of the largest multi-cloud environments in the world with over 500 clouds.
General Dynamics, Microsoft, AWS and other IT companies have developed extremely secure cloud services for the national security community. General Dynamics manages the long-running MilCloud program which provides the Pentagon a wide range of secure cloud services. Amazon created GovCloud to provide isolated and secure cloud storage for U.S. and government agencies and certain other customers, primarily in highly regulated industries. It allows users to store and manipulate sensitive and confidential data to the cloud while meeting government regulatory and compliance requirements. AWS has created 57 Availability Zones where cloud storage is provided across 19 geographic regions with more coming soon.
AWS also pioneered the creation and management of dedicated, standalone cloud storage and support for the U.S. Intelligence Community (IC). The Central Intelligence Agency and National Security Agency manage the Commercial Cloud Services contract, which was won by Amazon, for all seventeen members of the IC. In essence, Amazon built a commercial cloud environment in government-owned spaces. This contract has reduced the time it takes to set up a server from 180 days to a matter of minutes. The quality of IC products has significantly improved because of the increased ability to share and manipulate data. Recently, the IC expanded its cloud computing resources by awarding a second contract to Microsoft.
AWS has been successful in dominating the cloud services marketplace because it provides cutting edge technologies, a high degree of data security and a reasonable price. Just last month, Amazon announced three new products – AWS Outpost, Local Zones and AWS Wavelength – designed to provide cloud users with greater flexibility, bandwidth and oversight of their data and the sites where information is stored. Such innovations provide customers with enhanced flexibility while maintaining a high degree of data security.
A number of IT companies are working to incorporate artificial intelligence and machine learning in its cloud offerings. This is particularly attractive to DoD and the IC both of which must not only collect, manage and disseminate massive amounts of data but look for specific indicators and patterns to support near real-time decision making.
It is important that DoD has trust in its relationships with private sector providers. Nothing is worse for national security than awarding a contract for advanced services or to develop critical capabilities only to have a company with the right technologies refuse to bid, or worse, withdraw from the development process. In 2018, under pressure from its employees, Google refused to continue working on Project Maven, which was attempting to use artificial intelligence to interpret video images that could be employed for identifying and striking hostile targets. It should be noted also that Google declined to bid on the JEDI contract.
Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos has made clear his commitment to working with the federal government, including the intelligence community and Pentagon. In an interview given at the 2019 Reagan National Defense Forum, he pointed out that “if big tech companies are going to turn their back on U.S. Department of Defense, this country is going to be in trouble.” He went on to declare that “We are going to continue to support the Department of Defense and I think we should.” He explained that it was the role of corporate leadership to do the right thing for both the private companies and the country. “It is the job of the senior leadership team to say ‘no.’ So it’s on the senior leadership team to say: ‘I understand these are emotional issues, that’s OK. We don’t have to agree on everything. But this is how we are going to do it. We are going to support the Department of Defense.’” Such a clear and forthright commitment to collaborating with the Pentagon is critically important to DoD’s ability to partner with the private sector.
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